“Do you know the German word, sehnsucht,” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “The idea of an inconsolable longing for what we don’t understand. You believe that longing is for God. Or heaven. And that we can confuse it with longing for someone or something else.”
― Patti Callahan, Becoming Mrs. Lewis
There’s this movie I’ve always ALWAYS love going back to since it came up I think around 2008. It’s called Fireproof. It’s one of those clips where you do not necessarily fit in the shoes of the main leads and their specific predicament BUT you just seem to walk with them nonetheless.
This is my favourite line of all time from the male lead:
So Caleb here, was actually talking to his dad about how difficult his wife was. We’ve all been there, right? Trying to appease someone, trying to stretch our patience and make good with our efforts and then — SPLAT! — just like that, they mow over it like the first day of spring cleaning.
But take another read at the last line. He says “How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over who constantly REJECTS ME?”
And I swear whenever I replay this scene I can just feel his frustration over gritted teeth. It’s painful and annoying as hell. It doesn’t surprise me how he’s so livid with her when he ranted to his dad. Here he was, actually trying to clean up his life, make better choices, and the only human response his wife could give him was… be suspicious.
However, I found something more vicious every time I read Isaiah, talking prophetically about Jesus:
3 He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
4 But the fact is, it was our pains he carried — our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.
5 But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him — our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.
6 We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.
(Isaiah 53:3–6, The Message Version)
I admit, prior to the decision to get to know God personally, I was no better than Paul for being a hypocrite, or David, for being dishonest; Thomas, for being a doubter; or Solomon, for splurging on the lofty pleasures of life without deriving any meaning in it.
But these days, I find it harder and harder to grasp on how we (myself included) could be like Caleb’s wife. Always the recipient of things good, but never enough in our eyes. Unwittingly, we take and take and take and take, yet we clamour for things before we even begin to appreciate the giver. We test people and drive them to the limits, feeling a deep sense of entitlement.
And the worst part of all? We claim to LOVE them.
What IS love?
My heart honestly broke when Caleb’s dad responded to his last question saying that’s a good question, with a knowing smile.
It dawned on them both. And I hope it dawns on us too.
If God is someone who could complain about the nasty things we’ve chosen to do, he’d probably sound like Caleb: You’d think they’d be grateful; I have taken their sarcasm and insults; I have bent over backwards for them; how am I supposed to show love to someone who constantly rejects Me?
I know that for most of us, especially in very liberated states, it is with ease and convenience that the thought of loving God and being loved by Him is a notion that we can dismiss. I even think that at some point it has become too mainstream that the thought of its reality comes just like routine ordinary ideas we’ve been accustomed to disbelieve.
Because it is too EASY for us. It’s not like believing or not believing is a life or death thing — that is, for the vast majority of US who are lucky.
While we fight against God’s love in our every day lives, statistics would tell us that:
And these numbers always shake me awake whenever I begin to doubt if God really cares for me, much less love me. And it becomes a fact that as much as I struggle over daily routine stuff, and pout at little inconveniences, on the other side of the globe — or sometimes even just on the neighbouring state — people are taking their last meal, their last breath, their last prayer.
That for me makes His love all too real for me to discount. Not that people should suffer before I become convinced, but that people are all too willing to go through it, for the God who had made us and sustained us, despite the circumstances we face.
For the lucky ones among us, we are not given too tall an order. For the grace and the blessings we receive, a bulk of them we did not earn, we are only called to do ONE THING:
34–35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognise that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34–35, The Message)
For the many ways we have fallen short, trying to disprove His very existence (even when failing miserably to do so), professing belief only when we deem it convenient or noteworthy, living our lives contrary to how He urges us, to prove our independence… with all of these, isn’t it a little bit sad that all He would ever ask of us is to LOVE?
And this is not even for Him. Because if loving was for the sole benefit of God, one might argue, as most atheists and agnostics would, why the heck did God not just magically compel each and everyone of us to love Him and obey Him?
But I throw that query back to you. Imagine if you could make anyone, no matter the distance, race, creed or culture, to simply devote themselves to you — blindly but matter-of-factly — all the days of their lives. Unceasing and without the possibility of betrayal or disloyalty. I am pretty sure we, as human beings being practical and all, would love that.
The big problem now is that, could we even call such a setup “LOVE”? Affection without direction. Blind following without direction. Devotion without freedom. At the very least, nobody can even call it living. It’s merely a pathetic attempt at mimicking love in a malignant narcissist’s twisted mind.
God never had a mind to strip humanity of the freewill to choose for ourselves whether we are to love him or others or not. Because He knows that that is the only real form of love. “To lay down one’s life for his friends” and choose to forego punishment, revenge, bitterness, unforgiveness, strife, double-dealing, and any other darkness our humanness offers us.
I say this strongly, not because I’ve self-actualised to the point of wholly distinguishing right from wrong or evil from good. On the contrary, I can say this because despite the longing in me to deviate from what is good, there is always Someone who constantly reminds me, pulls me back in and cherishes the sinful person that I am.
For it is only in falling and looking clearly at our graceless selves that we find real mercy and love — when the One who can easily wipe us out to oblivion, carefully puts us back together piece by broken piece, over and over, just to convince us maybe someday to reach back and acknowledge Him. As I look over the different figures in the Bible, I read the ugly clandestine trysts made by David — known ironically as a man after God’s own heart. I stumble upon people like Abraham, who repeatedly lied to save his own skin. There’s also Paul, one of the greatest apostles, who caused the stoning of a young man to death, merely because he hated Christians.
And then there’s ME. I’ve probably committed sins as many as the hairs on my head, forgot God many times in my life, turned away opportunities to help people despite His pleas — and yet here I am, alive, relatively healthy, taken cared of by Him, and always reminded that He can never love me less no matter how disgusting I am. And I’m hoping that whoever you are and from wherever you may be, this little love note convinces you of a love that’s always been meant for you and is yours.
I live you now with this true story I can never let go of since I first heard it from one of my female churchmates back in 2010. So her friend asked her one day “What if, in the end, you find out that there is NO God?”. Ate Shamu fondly responded by saying “It’s alright. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
I would rather live my life for God and find out that there is none, than live my life as though there is none, and find out in the end that there is one.
And she threw back this closing saying “But what if there is?” ☺
“I live by the maxim, love people when they least expect it and least deserve it. That how you change someone’s life forever.”
― Mark Batterson, If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities